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For mother, daughter, fight vs. AIDS continues

Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter Annie reflect on fallen friends, those still at risk

I miss Rick Frank. He called me on my shit. He loved me truly, madly, deeply. He died a year after George Lowe, his love, my other friend. I consider myself lucky to have known and loved them and that they were but a few friends I lost because of HIV/AIDS. My daughter was 9 when he died. She was a part of his life and he a part of hers. She understood his death as best as she could.

In the 10 years since he died, there have been so many changes and so many developments. There is hope. There are new drug therapies and new trials, although this week in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Michael Gottlieb said, “I've always looked at AIDS therapy as a series of leaky lifeboats. You stay in the first one until you're sinking, then jump to another one. But you don't give up looking for others." The disease has crossed racial lines, gender lines, socio-economic lines, religions, regions and continents. While we cast an eye on sub-Saharan Africa, in our own cities, HIV prevalence among black MSM (men who have sex with men) is estimated at 46 percent. HIV/AIDS is everywhere.

Like with all things out of my control, I have tried to find the courage to do what I can. After Rick died I joined APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) and their AIDS walks here in Los Angeles, brandishing a red ribbon scarf around my neck and breasts, and with my daughter by my side, I expressed embarrassment at waiting until his death to get involved. I joined the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and their Executive Advisory Board and their annual Dream Halloween event to help raise money for children whose lives have been ripped apart and forever altered by the crisis. I lend my voice, my time, my name, and my money. I have tried to keep Rick’s incredible life spirit alive in my daily actions and work, both in and out of show business. I write books for children to help them understand the secrets that we adults seem to know about life, feelings, and loss. I dedicated my book “Where Do Balloons Go?” to Rick. I have raised my children to understand and help. I am scared for them, coming of age in a world riddled with AIDS.

My daughter, who is in college now, has opened her mind to the great issues in the world. She traveled to Thailand to work with the children in the slums and is focusing her college courses to include gender, sexuality and ethnicity studies. For one of her classes she wrote a paper about the medical community and the media’s treatment of black MSM with HIV/AIDS. I learned from it things I am shocked to know. There is much to learn still. I am proud of her, as Rick and George would be. She has taken an interest and will continue the work. L’dor V’dor in Hebrew means from generation to generation. My daughter and I are honoring our fallen friends and family in the war on this terror-filled disease.— Jamie Lee Curtis

Was there a time before AIDS?
It’s hard to reflect on an epidemic that’s older than you are. For me at 19, in the year 2006, AIDS is a reality, every day. My first real memory of AIDS is the death of my mom’s dear friend Rick Frank. I remember him looking like a skeleton two weeks before his death, but I also remember him smiling and taking my hand in his and suddenly it not mattering what he looked like.

Rick was a very talented actor, which is how he knew my mother. I was reading Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” in my junior year English class when I happened to look over the original cast list and there next to the part of Roy Cohn was Rick’s name. I started crying. Rick’s memory has followed me in so many ways — at the Los Angeles AIDS Walk, in my classes, or in the work I hope to do in my life.

I feel now that it’s my responsibility to educate myself and the people around me about this disease. I’ve only just begun down a long road in my own education and work with HIV/AIDS. It’s hard to sort through all the information out there considering the lack of knowledge, misinterpretation of data flying around, and especially the taboos surrounding AIDS. There is so much fear and silence about this virus and not nearly enough education. AIDS is not over and this fight is not over. Fear and silence are what spread this disease.

There is so much attention focused on those millions suffering of HIV/AIDS abroad, and rightly so. The numbers and statistics are just mind-blowing. But, we also need to remember those at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans made up a little more than half of all new HIV cases in 2005, and yet make up only 13 percent of the population. The disproportion of new HIV cases in African-American and Latino communities makes someone of my age — of any age — start to understand how far we have to go. We know by now that fear gets us nowhere and we know by now that silence gets us nowhere. So, after 25 years of AIDS, don’t you think it’s time we get our hands dirty? — Annie Guest

Jamie Lee Curtis is an actress and is the author of “It's Hard to be Five” and other children's books. Her daughter, Annie Guest, is a student. Both are active in the fight against HIV/AIDS.